Take the Public Out of Public Broadcasting

Friday, March 11, 2011


In October 2010, Republican incumbent Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina wrote an op-ed in the Washington Examiner titled, "Let NPR fend for itself on the market." Well, let’s discuss. In a time of reckless deficit spending, should government money for public broadcasting, however small, get the ax? Reason.com editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie says yes. Public media was created to serve "the public interest," says Gillespie. And what exactly does that mean?

Comments [36]


Hmm is anyone else having problems with the images on this blog
loading? I'm trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it's the blog.
Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

Mar. 07 2013 11:31 AM

I'll believe that NPR is "liberal" when I find evidence that they didn't just roll over in their coverage of the runup to the Iraq war and parrot the administration line about WMDs, etc.

NPR, as Harry Shearer put it, stands for nothing.

Apr. 09 2011 06:32 PM
Philip Prindeville from Portland, OR

GLADSTONE: I guess fundamentally this all boils down to what you think of public broadcasting. If you think it’s a left-wing inflected source of information, then there would be no reason to support it. But if you think – you know, going back to that old chestnut, that it actually leads to a more informed electorate that can make a better democracy, then you might have a different view.

Wow. Can you say "False dichotomy?" I knew you could...

Why can't you have an informed electorate without being left-wing inflected?

Unless, of course, you believe that the result of proper indoctrination is a left-leaning electorate...

Apr. 08 2011 06:21 PM
Laura from California

Jack, you'd think a guy talking about being broke would know that cutting NPR funding isn't going to solve our 14 trillion dollar debt problem. "Broke" is a euphemism.

Mar. 18 2011 02:35 PM
Laura from California

Additionally, I don't understand why we're raising such a stink about being 'forced' to pay for a public service whose interest is a more educated and informed society, while ignoring the unbelievably huge portion of our tax dollars that we are 'forced' to put toward a military budget whose promotion of the public interest is questionable at best.

Finally, why is the solution to the influence of the government's funding on journalism to cut the funding? Journalists supposedly are influenced by the fear of their funds being cut off. Well, they are being cut off and still NPR voiced its concerns by airing this program, which doesn't seem like brownnosing to me. Where is our innovation? Why can't we find a way to prevent government censorship that doesn't involve crippling public radio?

Mar. 18 2011 02:16 PM

You would think a guy from California would understand what broke means, and yet he doesn't. Shut down NPR funding.

Mar. 18 2011 02:11 PM
Laura from California

I resent the comparison between public radio and religious organizations. Religion is a divisive issue, whereas news is a universal service, regardless of political bias (a human quality and inevitable). The purpose of separating religion and state is to ensure the freedom of our citizens to choose which religion they wish to pursue; the purpose of publicly funding news is ensuring that our citizens may access it if they need to (like our citizens may access their social security funds if they need to).

The idea that removing government funds from public radio would remove any element of censorship from journalism is absurd -- what makes private funders any less influential? The only change would be that journalists would then be beholden to their extremely rich benefactors, continuing an era of unwarranted support for policies that advance the interests of the superrich (but what else is new).

Mar. 18 2011 02:09 PM
Mark Richard from Columbus, Ohio

To MiK, right, and the current crop of Democrats is well to the left of, say, FDR or Kennedy. FDR gave very detailed reasoning as to why the public sector should not be able to unionize, to take one currently applicable example. Kennedy specifically opposed use of the civil rights laws to give preference to one person over another in hiring on the basis of racial ancestry. The labeling of every new leader or movement on the conservative side as unprecedentedly radical or right-wing is routine - from Bob Taft isolationism, to McCarthyit/Nixonite anti-communism, to Goldwater hostility to centralized government, to Reagan social conservatism. My attention span's as good as yours, my friend.

Mar. 17 2011 01:01 PM
christa hillhouse from omaha NE

My tax dollars pay for a lot of stuff that i am against: wars, tax cuts for churches, etc etc ... NPR is probably the ONE thing that i WANT my money to help pay for! sheesh. as much of my money goes to the military, well, knowing that some of it goes to NPR and PBS helps soften the blow.

Mar. 17 2011 10:51 AM

Mark Richard, don't complain about being lost when you apparently have an extremely short attention span. The behavior of the current crop of GOP politicians is accurately described by the term radical right. If Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan were around now they would be left opf where the center is now and would not recognize the GOP. I'm not complaining, because their overreach with NPR and labor rights, eg, has awakened a backlash that the Dems. could not have done on their own.

Mar. 16 2011 06:29 PM
Sandi Campbell from Siler City, NC

What Mike Peterson said. We in the hinterlands are not cost effective enough for cable or even land line phone companies to give a crap about us, hence no multi-news channels or broadband internet. But all phone bills still carry the tax/fee placed there in the last century to make sure that rural areas were served, since they would never be "profitable".
As for bias - as a self-defined liberal, I find NPR often goes out of its way to put the conservative POV in the discussion. If NPR were the left-wing organization some claim, they'd do like FOX and give one side and call it Truth.

Mar. 16 2011 04:21 PM
Mark Richard from Columbus, Ohio

To Mik: You lost me at 'radical right' in your second sentence . . . zzzzzz . . . even left-wing abuse has liver spots on it.

Mar. 16 2011 01:13 PM
Kirk from US

I agree with many of the above. Cut NPR's ties with the federal government. It is likely to be inevitable in the long run anyway and -- if done thoughtfully rather than as a reaction to policy -- could result in a stronger organization.

Mar. 16 2011 12:51 PM
K Diamond from Brooklyn, NY

Mr Gillespie's remark, "We all want to live in a world where everybody can worship whatever God they want but nobody is forced to pay for other people’s belief systems..." was the one howler that stood out in an otherwise informative piece.

I propose a trade-off: end all gov't funding of public broadcasting AND all tax-break subsidies for religions.

Mar. 16 2011 09:51 AM

CS, if the Post Office had been private and for-profit, it would not have offered subsidized postal rates for printed matter. The end result was that the public had access to inexpensive content, and the people who generated content content writers and publishers - were subsidized for providing it in the form of cheap postage. Many publications and authors would never have seen the light of day. You have undoubtedly benefited from the literacy of previous generations of Americans, whether or not they were your direct ancestors.

Also your comment implies that you would approve of publicly funding a distribution system. In that case I'm sure you wouldn't object to govt' funding for operating transmitters.

Mar. 16 2011 09:03 AM
cameron sark from Boston

The post office is a distribution system, not a content provider, Mik.

Mar. 16 2011 08:03 AM

There IS such a thing as the public interest. It's currently fashionable for the radical right to decry public funding of anything for purely doctrinaire reasons, and the rabidity has moved even progressives and liberals to button their lips instead of aggressively defending the principle that public involvement in aspects of our public life is not only right but necessary for our nation to prosper.

The idea of public support for the media was put in place in the nation’s early years, in the shape of the Post Office, which was our earliest mass communications network, the sole means of spreading information and entertainment among a scattered population. Subsidizing the Post Office was very wisely and deliberately done to build an educated and literate populace, without which the United States could scarcely have developed into the nation it became. One shudders to think how our history would have developed if the know-nothing anti-government mentality of today had prevailed in those days.

Mar. 15 2011 05:43 PM
cameron sark from Boston

Brooke misses the point about taxpayer support for NPR. It's not a matter of Jesse Helms and Joe McCarthy versus Jesse Jackson and Gene McCarthy. Neither the United States government nor any other government should hold the purse strings for media outlets. News media and government should be deeply skeptical of one another. If the news media must depend on the support of a government agency, they can never be truly independent.

Mar. 15 2011 12:17 PM

NICK GILLESPIE's candor gets my respect.

Personally I would prefer to see NPR and PBS rehabilitated for tolerance and diversity of thought, something that would satisfy millions of independent thinking Americans.

Mar. 14 2011 05:11 PM
Kate Richardson from WA State

Information, investigative journalism and reporting in this country, to a large extent, has been commodified, and its producers must consider the positions of its commercial providers, in both the selection and coverage of different issues of public concern. I suggest that has not contributed to an informed public or electorate. NPR must be that counterbalance to commercially controlled information. NPR has had a relatively effective firewall to prevent political influence from controlling its content, while commercial media has been increasingly manipulated by its corporate sponsors. Plus there is no profit in bringing radio to local voices; public radio is essential. I think funding to NPR should be increased.

Mar. 13 2011 09:47 PM
falk burger from tucson AZ

"sting" is defined as "a deceptive operation by police to ensnare a criminal". NPR, by using this word, has defined itself as a criminal. How stupid can you get?

Mar. 13 2011 08:33 PM
S. Bowie from Albany, NY

Why don't journalists ever investigate and report on all the various government subsidies for corporate media companies? Does the media ever ask the taxpayers whether they want to subsidize the Wall Street Journal? Because we already do! Public media's puny $400million per year is dwarfed by the $1 billion per year that federal, state, and local governments spend to support commercial news publishers through tax breaks, postal subsidies and the printing of public notices. That is real money - but I have yet to hear a story that calls attention to all the ways we subsidize The NY Times, USA Today, the NY Post etc. "Print publications of all kinds also benefit from a wide range of tax breaks that have been specifically designed to help news outlets. There are special tax provisions in the federal tax code and in most states. Collectively, they account for hundreds of millions in lost tax revenues. For example, the federal tax code has provisions for the special treatment of publishers' circulation expenditures as well as special rules for magazine returns. Those two sections of the code account for a loss of $150 million in taxes - or a subsidy of $150 million for the industry. Tax breaks at the state level, including favorable treatment of newsprint and ink, amount to at least $750 million. The actual amount is probably much higher because many states don't report separate data for publishers." There are very few people who talk about this at all - http://fundingthenews.usc.edu/report/introduction.html


Mar. 13 2011 04:33 PM
Michael G. Eddingfield from Peoria, Illinois

One of the thoughts that has always managed to assuage my revulsion at forfeiting a third of my income to the discretion of that revolving pack of miscreants in Washington over the years has been public funding of NPR. I have listened to programs that have been allowed evolve over the years that I am convinced would either, never had a chance in commercial media, or would have been so overridden with corporate and commercial interference that they would have vanished years ago.
But, the one thing that I am not hearing from NPR is the solution to the following. I understand the majority of the public funding currently goes to those small stations that desperately need this support the most. I assume many these to be in more remote areas that would not normally have access to an alternate public station. I would feel better about the funding elimination and a higher opinion of management if there was a plan in place to cover them.

Mar. 13 2011 03:38 PM
Mike Peterson from Lebanon, NH

Just once, I'd like to hear that NPR funding is a substantial part of small, local stations' budget without everyone moving on to Things That Matter. In rural communities, the local NPR station may well be the only radio station that has a news staff of any sort, and it may also be the only locally programmed station amid the satellite network robots. In small states like Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, you can centralize the newsgathering, but you still need to place those sticks on the mountain tops so the signal can reach. In larger states with rural populations, the small local NPR station can't go statewide for its fundraising -- think of North Country Public Radio in New York.

Rural people already have lousy coverage for cell phones and they may still be getting the Internet on dial-up. Please don't let NPR pile on with the idea that, if we can't afford it, we don't deserve it. This debate should not be confined to the needs of Boston, Chicago, New York and LA.

Mar. 13 2011 11:22 AM
Richard Johnston from Manhattan upper west side

The arguments pro and can are almost equally compelling, but in the end I feel we should keep the government funding NPR precisely because it is balanced. Living in a notorious liberal enclave I can criticize the right wing with impunity in the elevator without fear of retribution because everybody here feels pretty much the same as I do about most social and economic issues. Whereas that's comforting and liberating, and I know I might risk getting punched out if I said something similar in an elevator in Plano, Texas, it's probably healthy for me to be exposed to other ideas that just might have some validity.
I was annoyed over the weekend to have to listen on NPR to Don Gonyea's discussion of which Republicans are the strongest candidates for the 2012 presidential nomination by their party, when I know very well there is no possibility whatsoever I will vote for anyone their party chooses; but I have to admit it's probably good for me to know what they are thinking, because there might be some valid ideas lurking in the Republican muck.
I just wish there were true balance in all the popular media, and that Fox News devotees would give NPR a chance. They might learn something for a change instead of having their ideas always reinforced.

Mar. 13 2011 11:13 AM
Devin Greaney from Memphis, TN

Excellent piece!!

I think the waters on this debate have been poisoned in all the complaints about the "liberal" NPR and why should everyone fund the "leftist" mouthpieces. Gillespie makes an excellent point on this not being a function of government BUT cutting funding to NPR will be viewed as punishing liberals rather than fiscal responsibility.

Likewise. some on the left ask for a return to the fairness doctrine. For all the points to be made for returning it to broadcasters, it would be viewed as punishing the right as few would argue Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glen Beck's audience is several times that of liberal hosts.

I know this is not perfect analogy. Conservative radio does not ask for funding from the government. And Rush Limbaugh ( and I assume the others, too ) has said point blank "I am not a journalist." The similarities lie in the fact motives of either actions will be viewed wit distrust.

Mar. 12 2011 10:12 PM
David from Oakland, CA

The country is broke. NPR does not need 5 billion dollars over the next ten years. Game over, get over it.

Mar. 12 2011 07:33 PM
Jim from Mechanicsburg, PA

I bow to no one in my support of public radio, both financially and through my avid listening. But I absolutely agree with Nick Gillespie that NPR should no longer receive federal funding. It played a critical role when NPR was founded 40 years ago. But, it is a trivial portion of total support now. In return, we get a constant stream of vitriol and mischaracterization from the right wing. It's time for NPR to cut loose from the federal treasury.

Mar. 12 2011 07:05 PM
Burk from California

Your bias is showing! Your mention a couple of times in this segment that the government is in "fiscal crisis" and "broke" fairly parrots the FOX news line. How balanced is that?

Our government can print however much money it wishes, especially at times of low inflation and high unemployment like now. It has zero financial constraint, and can spend with or without choosing to issue countervailing bonds, (i.e. borrowing).

The fact that conservatives can gin up a false sense of "broke-ness" on the back of a financial crisis that they themselves had ginned up by their previous mantra of "government is the problem" and regulations are evil, and which their friends in the financial industry used to gain billions from the public purse, is class warfare pure and simple. It is also an indictment of, yes, our media for a shocking and thorough lack of understanding of economics and the ideological bias of the economics profession.

For a primer, please read

Mar. 12 2011 02:31 PM
`KATHLEEN WARD from Akron, Ohio

I agree that it's time to cut the federal government out of public radio; not only is it time for every citizen to voluntarily cover the difference themselves, it is also time for NPR and its stations to prepare for the next assault--by a conservative administration-controlled FCC which would then try to interfere with the licensing of these stations. Don't think the battle will be over once the federal government is no longer contributing to public radio.

Mar. 12 2011 12:57 PM
Mark Sullivan from Rochester Hills, MI

In this week’s OTM you ran a segment on the ongoing effort by Republican politicians to piously push for the de-funding of NPR and PBS. In that segment you posited a series of logical arguments for funding the public media. But that is the problem, you are dealing with a small but highly motivated hive of drones on the far right who need to have their delusions reinforced by Fox News and talk radio, and who therefore find any contradictory news on the public airwaves to be highly offensive. In their drone logic NPR and PBS are de facto “liberal” and “socialist” (in an earlier day they would have called you communist) simply because NPR and PBS do not cater to their preconceived ideas and dogma. There is no logical way of discussing the issue of public funding of NPR and PBS with these drones. It is best to get off of public funding (at least for now) and thereby take away the platform conservatives have to harangue the public media because it dares to contradict their propaganda. As long as NPR and PBS are dependent on public funding, the management at those two networks will need to consciously or unconsciously edit their broadcasts to avoid the wrath of the far right drones.

Mar. 12 2011 11:45 AM
Steve from Austin, TX

Well J. Michael, you've proven that Teabaggers are violent with your threat to punch someone's lights out when you're criticized. So much for you and your Know-Nothing Party's claims of following the Constitution since you're often against civil discourse. You're Racist by Conduct.

Meanwhile Gillespie pulls out the old lie about the Nation being "broke."

Mar. 12 2011 09:30 AM

I thought this was an excellent (and unbiased) pair of segments about the role of NPR in public discourse.

I don't recall which of the two segments it was in, but if you didn't catch Brooke yelling "pussies!" give it another listen. This put a huge smile on my face.


Thanks for not editing that out, Brooke- you made my day! :-)

Mar. 12 2011 08:54 AM
J Michael from Charlotte, NC

OK...if you are going to make the case that NPR is getting no more tax break than churches, I might point out that churches for the most part reach out to all people regardless of political persuasion. NPR has, by their actions and admissions of senior staff in their ranks, identified themselves as a significantly leftist organization. However, even if they were a right-wing mouthpiece, I would still say Joe Taxpayer does not deserve to have their tax dollars diverted to any organization that has a political ax to grind. I'm a self-identified Tea Party person because I believe in the letter and the spirit of the US Constitution (unlike our President), but if some elitist called me racist, I would punch their lights out. I work with folks whom I would trust my life with, and some of them happen to be black. If NPR truly only receives 15% of its' funding at the Federal level, I see no problem in turning it over to the free market. I actually have a good friend who does a show on NPR every Saturday, and he always says "listener-supported-public-radio." Fine - it SHOULD be - 100%! Not 15% taxpayer-subsidized public radio.

Mar. 12 2011 08:06 AM
Charles from San Antonio, TX

Full disclosure: I am a conservative Libertarian and a devoted 40 year supporter of NPR. NPR is not perfect, but it is very, very good. We can survive without federal funding. Let's move on to the independence of voluntary funding.
Brooke and Bob did great with this edition of On The Media.

Mar. 12 2011 06:43 AM

Nick Gillespie gives a false analogy when he says that Americans shouldn't be forced to pay for public radio any more than they are for religious institutions. We do pay, in the form of tax breaks for places of worship. I'm not out for blood, so to speak, from some tiny little congregation, but there are plenty of large, rich congregations with valuable property that should be paying their fair share of taxes.

Mar. 11 2011 10:40 PM

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